When memory and fantasy collide, truth is up for grabs in this mystery debut from O’Hehir, short-listed for a Pulitzer for I Wish This War Were Over (1984).
Retired Egyptian scholar Edward Day lives not too far from Berkeley, Calif., where the devotion of an elderly female trio soothes his descent into Alzheimer’s. One day, he returns from a walk highly agitated about a woman trussed in a net on the beach below. Mrs. Sisal, the administrator at Green Beach Manor, thinks he needs to be transferred to a more secure facility, but his daughter Carla is hired on as an unskilled aide instead. Soon the elderly trio, Mrs. Dexter, Mrs. Cohen and Mrs. La Salle, are telling her about the odd “accidents” around the Manor: a woman falling out of a window, a fire in the beauty parlor, a gas leak. Is Edward’s memory of the woman in the net another “accident” or merely the product of faulty synapses? While Carla tries to separate truth from fantasy, the accidents continue. Partnered by her former lover Robbie Ackroyd, the son of her best chum Susie and a resident in a hospital nearby, Carla has little success in coaxing more information out of Edward, until she takes him to a private museum specializing in Egyptology. If the wrap-up isn’t equal to the set-up, few will care.
O’Hehir scores big with her wry heroine, perceptive depictions of auxiliary characters, nuanced approach to Alzheimer’s and intriguing snippets of Egyptian poetry.